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Who does the World Water Forum speak for?

March 2009

Not for the world’s people for sure. And especially not for the increasingly thirsty billions who lack acess to clean and safe water for drinking, cooking, and growing food; or for those that have been displaced by huge mega dam projects or suffered from water diversions for agribusinesses and bottled water corporations. This was amply evident when the World Water Forum (WWF) denied permission to the United Nations General Assembly President, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann (from Nicaragua) to speak at its 5th gathering in Istanbul, Turkey this past week. Not to be deterred, he requested his senior advisor, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians to deliver his message.

So its, frankly, galling that the World Water Council (WWC, which organizes the WWF) president Loïc Fauchon said to Agence France Presse that, “Everyone is invited, and in any case, everyone comes these days” and that “If it (the Forum) were organized by the United Nations, it would lose its characteristic of being open to all. In a UN conference, not everyone who wants to come can participate. In the World Water Forum, anyone can take part.”

Apparently anyone but the president of the UN General Assembly!

The WWF is practically a tradeshow for corporations and its agenda has been in line with the privatization agenda of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Fauchon is the president of the Société des Eaux de Marseille, which is a joint subsidiary of the two French water multinationals Veolia Environnement and Suez Environnement.

It is not part of the United Nations process and has no accountability to global civil society or even governments. Many government representatives who participated were not clear about this fact. Or, that none of the official declarations that come out of the WWF that are initiated by its leadership the WWC are binding.

That lack of knowledge and the hosting of consecutive forums by the WWC that draw representatives from hundreds of governments every three years is what the WWC and its corporate sponsors hope will legitimize their agenda.

There are always the tried and tested sweeteners that can be added, like taking the entire media corps on a boat ride on the Bosphorus complete with dinner, drinks and gifts. But the media, both progressive and mainstream, was wise to that. In fact, the final press conference of the WWF drew far less media than that organized by water justice/rights activists from around the world.

In the end, the official communiqué of the WWF refused to recognize water as a human right simply noting it as a human need, no small thanks to the United States. A U.S. representative went so far as to claim that the right to water was against the U.S. constitution. Wonder what our president, a constitutional lawyer thinks about that. Over 20 countries (and the list is growing), including Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador signed a complementary declaration that recognized water as a human right. Many others signed onto another declaration calling for any future discussions on water to be held under the UN’s aegis.

As Santiago Arconada an activist from Venezuela declared, juxtaposing Istanbul to the 4th WWF in Mexico City in 2006: De México para arriba, todo; De México para abajo, nada! From Mexico going forward, we’re all in; From Mexico going backward, no way!

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